April 2005 Friedman Report School Choice Roundup

Published April 1, 2005

Arizona * Florida * Indiana * Minnesota * New Jersey
New York * Ohio * Texas


Arizona Working Toward Voucher System

Arizona Republicans vowed to increase their efforts to implement a voucher system for education, in hopes of giving parents more choices and saving money the state currently spends on public schools.

Committees in both the House and Senate are working on voucher bills, encouraged by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s recent appearance at a legislative committee meeting. Napolitano is interested in continuing the phase-in of all-day kindergarten, which won approval for state funding last year.

The Arizona Daily Sun reports that Napolitano told the committee she is willing to negotiate and plans to support anything that will enhance public education. State Sen. John Huppenthal (R-Chandler) told the newspaper he was satisfied by the “commitment to negotiate.”

“Now we’re faced with the opportunity to break up the Ma Bell of education to give consumers a choice,” State Rep. John Allen (R-Scottsdale) told the Daily Sun, comparing vouchers in education to the introduction of competition in the telephone industry.
Arizona Daily Sun
February 17, 2005


Florida Gov. Bush Offers “A-Plus-Plus” Plan

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is proposing a major expansion of the state’s voucher program by offering vouchers to any student who has failed state reading tests for three consecutive years.

That proposal is just part of Bush’s package of education law changes for K-12, which has been dubbed “A-Plus-Plus,” a sequel to the “A-Plus” plan Bush unveiled during his 1998 gubernatorial campaign. “A-Plus-Plus” will offer the vouchers, different levels of pay for teachers, and a later date for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), giving students additional time to learn.

“The overall goal of the legislation is to attract more teachers to the teaching profession and assist students in having academic success in the middle grades,” State Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R-Ormond Beach) told the Tallahassee Democrat. Lynn is sponsoring the bill on Bush’s behalf.

Students who score at the lowest level for three straight years on the FCAT will be allowed to attend a new public school or receive a voucher for a private school. The Tallahassee Democrat estimates the measure has the potential to help tens of thousands of Florida students.

Through its three existing voucher programs, Florida already offers vouchers to more students than any other state. State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) was quoted in the Tallahassee Democrat as saying, “We’re on the right course and we need to do everything to keep improving Florida’s schools.”

Baxley added, “Florida schools are getting better, and the vouchers play an important role. … [I]f a child is doing poorly on the FCAT in public schools, [we think] that the private schools should have an opportunity to give that child a better chance of passing the test.”

Lynn called Bush’s plan “a natural extension of education reform we have started in K through 5.”
Tallahassee Democrat
February 22, 2005


Indiana House Committee Approves School Choice

The Indiana House Education Committee recently approved a bill that gives parents the right to transfer their children, at state expense, to other public, private, or charter schools if their current public school is failing, as defined by federal law.

More than 200 parents and students gathered at the Statehouse in Indianapolis to support the bill, which they say gives parents more power in bettering their children’s education. “We are giving parents and children more options,” Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), sponsor of the bill, told the Indianapolis Star.

Under No Child Left Behind, more than 50 Indiana schools are not meeting federal standards. With the new proposal, 25,000 students in 16 counties could leave their failing schools to attend better ones. The Indianapolis Star reports the state funds would go with the students to their new school and estimates the amount at about $9,000 per student.

School choice supporters were encouraged, saying the measure gives all parents– poor or wealthy–the same chance to opt out of poorly performing school districts. The bill will soon be up for consideration by the full House.
Indianapolis Star
February 16, 2005


School Choice Proposal Offered in Minnesota

School choice is a hot topic in Minnesota, thanks to a bill recently drafted by two Republican lawmakers. Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) and Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) are sponsoring the bill in their respective houses.

If passed, the bill would give eligible low-income families in Minneapolis and St. Paul the chance to send their children to accredited private or religious schools. Eligible students accepted into their chosen school would receive a state grant in the amount of Minnesota’s basic per-pupil allocation for education.

With “the changes that the state is facing, the kind of demographic changes, the kind of changes that we’re trying to deal with in education, we need to look at all options,” Hann said, according to an article published on the Minnesota Public Radio Web site.

Buesgens is a longtime public school administrator, and he pointed out the proposal is not to be taken as anti-public school. “To deny, especially the poorest of the poor in our urban core, the opportunities of the full range of choices and therefore the opportunity to better their lot, simply because of finances, that’s absolutely wrong,” he said.
Minnesota Public Radio
February 4, 2005


New Jersey’s Jackson Calls for Change

The Rev. Reginald Jackson, an influential black leader in New Jersey, recently led a group of school voucher advocates in taking their campaign to the Statehouse. The group’s goal is to see a bill introduced that will give poor families the choice of attending private schools with public funds.

The group of clergy and community groups is appealing to families in poor areas and election-year politicians. Jackson told the Newark Star Ledger he would take the fight to court if current measures don’t effect a change.

Jackson is probably best known in the state for his work in ending racial profiling by New Jersey State Police. He believes his fight for school choice is much the same, telling the Star Ledger, “we must pressure the state against this means of racial profiling.”

“The Black Ministers Council comes to not just talk about the plight of minority and poor children, but to announce our intent to revive the civil rights movement in this state and to center it around the issue of the education of our children,” Jackson said.
Newark Star Ledger
February 11, 2005


New York Special Education Students Risk Lose Funding

Current federal law deems that parents who put their special education students in private schools after failing to find a suitable program within a government-run city school are to be reimbursed by their city’s Education Department.

A New York court recently ruled the city is not required, however, to reimburse special education students who never attended a city school.

In 2004, New York paid for the private school education of 1,900 special education students. The city’s Education Department reports nearly half of those students had never attended a public school. Parents must apply for reimbursement annually, and those students are in danger of being cut off when they apply next year.

There is some criticism that wealthy parents are securing private school reimbursements when they don’t need them, rather than first trying to enroll their special education students in a public school. Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children, responded to that criticism in the New York Daily News.

“I can’t tell you if well-off parents are scamming the system,” she said, “but there is a severe lack of appropriate supports and services for many children, and that is why those children end up going to private programs.”
New York Daily News
January 7, 2005


Ohio Governor Proposes New Voucher System

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft’s (R) new budget proposal includes funds to expand Cleveland’s voucher program, state aid for private schools, and a new set of vouchers that would cost $9 million.

The new voucher program is for children in failing public schools. Taft defines a failing school as one in which two-thirds of the children fail math and reading proficiency tests for three years in a row.

If implemented, the plan would give up to $3,500 in public money to each of 2,600 students who qualified. The students would be allowed to attend the private school of their choice starting in the 2006-07 school year.

In a recent news conference, Taft said, “I have lost my patience with children [being] trapped in failing schools.”

Susan Bodary, Taft’s executive assistant for education and work force policy, told the Akron Beacon Journal that Taft committed himself to finding alternatives to failing schools after a series of meetings with large urban districts last year. In addition to the problems in the public schools in those districts, Bodary noted the Catholic schools that have failed in recent years are almost exclusively in urban, high-poverty areas that have been hit hard “in challenging economic times.” Taft is concerned that when those families lose jobs, they can no longer afford tuition for their children.

“We wanted to make sure that those families have the full capacity to make this choice and the economic means to stay in those schools,” Bodary told the Beacon Journal.
Akron Beacon Journal
February 20, 2005


Texas Seeks Vouchers for Urban Students

Legislation was recently filed in Texas to allow urban students to use public funds to attend private schools. School voucher advocates told the Associated Press the bill is an important step in understanding how to meet the needs of students who aren’t being well-served.

The bill would apply to counties with more than 800,000 residents. Students would be eligible for vouchers if they live in the county’s largest district that has a majority of failing students, or if at least 90 percent of the students in the district were failing in the previous school year. In addition, students would have to meet certain conditions–being at risk of dropping out of school, being a victim of violence, or having difficulty with English, for example–to be eligible for assistance.

If the bill is passed, eligible students will have the choice of attending another public school or a private school.

Michael Sullivan, vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told the Associated Press, “experience would dictate that this is a good thing,” noting other states have had success with voucher programs.

Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) agreed, saying if the objective is to provide a good education, “then who can argue whether it’s going to a public school or the little Catholic school down the street?”
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
February 19, 2005

Sarah Faulkner ([email protected]) is an adjunct fellow with the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation.